What's Vitamin A got to do with fertility? Find out
If you’re part of the Agent army, when you think of Vitamin A, it’s likely that you’ll think of retinol or one of your favorite products that is packed full of some variation of Vitamin A, like our holi (oil). As well as being part of your trusty retinol, favorite face creams, potions and oils, vitamin A actually does a ton more within the body. The problem is, the connection between Vitamin A and fertility is so under-appreciated and under-acknowledged that so many people just don’t understand the impact that a Vitamin A deficiency is likely having on your body or your attempts to conceive.
Vitamin A is relevant to EVERYONE - and before we start, what’s most important to understand is that there are two types of Vitamin A.
Firstly, there is the active vitamin A (retinol) and then the second type is vitamin A carotenoids (when beta-carotene is converted to retinol). Most people think that to make Vitamin A within the body, we need beta-carotene and beta-carotene rich foods, but with the other type of Vitamin A [active Vitamin A (retinol)], the body doesn’t need to convert it, it takes it in directly from the food we eat. To get active Vitamin A [retinol] into the body, we need to be eating animal products because active Vitamin A only comes from animal products. So, if you are vegetarian or vegan, or eating a hugely plant-based diet, you might be deficient in the active form of Vitamin A and you also might be damaging your fertility - but more on that later). On top of that, there is a genetic DNA snip that some people have in their DNA which means that their body can’t effectively convert beta carotene into Vitamin A, giving you another way for your body to become deficient in Vitamin A and, over time, maybe even severely depleted - whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or not.
The key takeaway point here is that the body needs Bioavailable Vitamin A from animal products - especially if you have the genetic snip, you are even more in need of Vitamin A from animal sources.
So, let’s get into it. How does Vitamin A work?
It works by binding to receptors in the body that are responsible for a LOT of things. These receptors (and consequently, Vitamin A) control the expression of literally hundreds of genes that are involved in hormone function, hormone metabolism, fertility and reproduction (and more).
What has the thyroid got to do with it?
If you aren’t getting enough active Vitamin A, it is the thyroid (and the hormones that it makes) that actually helps to work on, and increase, the conversion of beta-carotene into vitamin A. If your thyroid is weak, falter or not working properly, then your body can’t convert beta carotene properly so you will start to become deficient in Vitamin A, and high in beta-carotene. This increase has been connected to challenges like losing your period, showing us beta-carotene levels in the body are closely connected to our hormones, reproductive system and fertility. This will be more severe if you already have a genetic predisposition to an overly or less efficient thyroid or conversion mechanism.
And vitamin A and fertility?
Vitamin A is so important for fertility - particularly through being involved with fertilization, uterine implantation, conception, fetal development and more - so imbalanced levels of beta-carotene or vitamin A will affect the chances of getting pregnant. This has been confirmed by recent studies that have shown that the most successful IVF treatments for women living with endometriosis involved embryos and mature oocytes that were taken from follicles in a group with the highest concentration of retinoic acid in them.
What this means is that getting active forms of Vitamin A (retinol) is key so that you can worry less about how well your body is converting beta-carotene to Vitamin A.
Lack of active vitamin A, too much beta-carotene and weak conversion into standard vitamin A means that it is likely that your fertility, hormone levels and reproductive health might take a hit.
How do I know if I might be low in Vitamin A?
Good question - and because not everyone has the ability to test, it’s good to look out for symptoms. The main ones are:
- Thyroid issues;
- Inflammatory bowel disease, issues with digestion / absorption;
- Frequent colds, upper respiratory infections;
- Fertility challenges (difficulty conceiving, low sperm count, frequent miscarriages);
- Night blindness, poor vision;
- Dry hair, dry eyes.
For anyone who thinks that they may be deficient in Vitamin A, it is really important to understand exactly the TYPE of vitamin A that you need, before going out and starting to supplement. Vitamin A is actually a fat-soluble vitamin which means that if you are supplementing too much, it can be toxic for your liver. This is because fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body for a long period of time and are thought to pose more of a risk than other types of vitamins that are water-soluble, instead of fat soluble.
Like with anything, it’s always important to consult medical advice before adding supplements into your wellbeing regime.
What type of Vitamin A do I need?
The truth is that you need REAL vitamin A which is retinol - the active form of Vitamin A. A lot of people supplement with beta carotene thinking that it is pure Vitamin A, or that it is needed to promote conversion. The truth is that a whole host of thyroid hormones are needed to convert beta carotene into retinol and that the best sources are from animals (not from plants). Real Vitamin A retinol is best taken from things like liver, beef liver supplements, cod liver oil, raw dairy and cultured butter. Check out your local Whole Foods or Erewhon for raw non pasteurized dairy. These sources reduce the likelihood of toxicity due to processing and the presence of other fat-soluble vitamins like D, K and E. It’s important to keep REAL vitamin A retinol balanced with these other vitamins too so make sure you are incorporating these into your diet where possible (and / or supplementing if really necessary).
As well as supplementing with REAL vitamin A, there are ways that you can help to increase and support your body’s beta-carotene absorption and conversion (thanks to the BCMO1 gene) include:
- Increasing high quality protein consumption within the diet to around 40% of your total daily caloric intake;
- Incorporating Beef Liver Supplements - one of our favorite brands is Ancestral Supplements;
- Incorporating Cod Liver Oil - we like Rosavita;
- Avoiding / cutting gluten out of the diet;
- Avoiding additives (like MSG);
- Reducing beta-carotene rich foods (the general rule is the brighter or more intense the color of something, the more beta-carotene it has in it - ie. carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli etc).
Guys, this is so under explored, under appreciated and under acknowledged, but the connection between Vitamin A, thyroid health and fertility is a critical one.
Share this with your loved ones who might need it.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST****